YERINGTON, Nev. — Three months into Taylissa Marriott’s freshman year at a rural northern Nevada high school, she was brought to tears by someone, again, calling her a racial slur.
This time, Taylissa told the Reno Gazette-Journal, it was within earshot of a Yerington High School teacher who stood silent in the hallway.
She and her sister are two of only a few black students in the high school of just under 400 students in rural Nevada, 90 minutes southeast of from Reno.
Taylissa’s mom, Nancy Marriott-Tolliver and stepfather, Charles Tolliver, say Taylissa and her stepsister, Jayla Tolliver, both 14, have been the victims of repeated racial bullying at school.
The parents say their pleas for action from district administrators and police have been ignored.
Charles Tolliver said he called the principal a bigot, and school officials banned him from school grounds without prior permission.
Tensions increased after photos of a Lyon County sheriff’s deputy’s son holding a gun and wearing a belt with knives were posted on social media on Oct. 8 with threats against black people, using a racial slur.
It was unclear who wrote the comments, but Taylissa and Jayla stayed home from school the next day. They filled out police reports. They worried when they went outside.
Yerington Mayor George Dini dismissed the posts as the act of teenagers ignorant of what they were doing and meaning no harm.
Lyon County Superintendent Wayne Workman said the school district did what it could when it informed Yerington police.
But Yerington Police Chief Darren Wagner told the Gazette-Journal he didn’t investigate because the posts represented free speech.
“This is just a First Amendment issue. I did not do an investigation because there is nothing to investigate,” Wagner said. He said he didn’t interview the students who made the posts or the boy posing in the picture, and statements the family filled out were shredded by a police officer new to the department.
“It’s awful what was said, and I don’t condone it,” the police chief said.
Lyon County Sheriff Al McNeil confirmed the boy pictured was the son of one of his deputies. McNeil said the post appeared to be a foolish mistake by young people, not a credible threat, but he said Yerington police should have investigated.
School officials say they can’t comment on what actions, if any, were taken against the students involved in the Oct. 8 post.
Principal Duane Mattice said the school is doing everything it can to address bullying. He said a unity day is planned in December to celebrate all cultures, and a committee of people of different backgrounds was formed to improve respect for all races.
Yerington has a little more than 3,000 residents and fewer than 20 are black.
Taylissa Marriott’s family said moving to a town and experiencing bigotry has been hard.
“I just feel sick,” Jayla said. “You shouldn’t judge someone from their skin color. We are all the same.”
“People say they don’t like our kind,” Taylissa said. “It’s not stopping. It’s 2017. You would think racial stuff would be over, but it’s not.”
The Reno-Sparks chapter of the NAACP is investigating the allegations of threats and bullying.
“You can say you don’t like (a certain race) but when you say you are going to kill them, that is different,” said Lonnie Feemster, the past president of the local chapter and now the vice president overseeing NAACP programs in Nevada, Utah and Idaho.
Amy Rose, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said criminal speech must be a credible threat or incite imminent unlawful behavior.
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com